Greg Moore’s first game as head coach of the Toronto Marlies will not soon be forgotten.
After watching his new team get off to the perfect start, the Marlies dug themselves a hole and then climbed out it to head into the festive break on a high note.
From the opening faceoff, a loud chant of “Let’s Go Marlies” could be heard from a large contingent of Toronto fans that made the journey, and the away fans were celebrating just 26 seconds in.
Timothy Liljegren and Nic Petan kept the play alive at the right boards in the Belleville zone, allowing Pontus Aberg to gather possession and dangle past one defender before scoring from an acute angle.
That lead lasted barely seven minutes — Teemu Kivihalme turned it over in the Belleville zone before a number of Marlies were causal on the backcheck, allowing Drake Batherson to pick out Josh Norris driving down the middle of Toronto’s defense. Norris’ intended to pass to Hubert Labrie on his left, but the puck found the net off of Nic Petan, who deserved better after showing some urgency tracking back defensively.
The Marlies then wasted the first power play of the game and found themselves trailing with 13 minutes on the clock. Again, it was a play that started in the Senators’ zone with the puck shifted quickly behind their own net and down the left wing, where Batherson went one-on-one with Ben Harpur — a one-sided contest that saw the AHL’s joint leading scorer embarrass Harpur with a burst of speed before giving Joseph Woll no chance with a pinpoint finish.
Thankfully for Toronto, the Senators were less clinical on their first power play, but they came close to netting on a second opportunity with the extra man — Woll came to the Marlies‘ rescue with a wonderful double save to deny Norris.
In between times, Garrett Wilson hit the post on a rare foray into the Belleville zone, but in truth, the Marlies were very fortunate to only trail 2-1 after 20 minutes after getting largely out-played (outshot 15-4).
The middle frame saw the Marlies start brightly, with Jeremy Bracco coming close with a shot on the turn that tested Filip Gustavsson, but the Marlies fell 3-1 behind with 2:31 played.
More sloppy play and missed assignments proved costly as a 3-on-2 break saw Max Veronneau’s centering effort from the right side hit the heel of Rodolfs Balcers stick and fall kindly for Filip Chlapik, who beat Woll blocker side.
The Marlies failed to make good on a second power play and appeared out of sorts until a goal out of the blue seemed to turn the direction of the game. Darren Archibald received a pass at the top of the left circle, and with nothing much available in the way of support, threw the puck on goal and it found the net, a goal Gustavsson would like back.
It was nearly a tie game on a Marlies power play seconds later, but Gustavsson redeemed himself with a sharp save to deny Adam Brooks.
The TSN Turning Point arrived with seven minutes remaining in the second period: The officials called Belleville for two infractions on the same play, giving Toronto a two-man advantage for a full two minutes. It was absolutely the right call despite the protests from the home fans, who were even more outraged after what transpired from there.
It took just 22 seconds for Toronto to tie the game at three apiece after Timothy Liljegren ripped the puck home from the left circle. 25 seconds elapsed afterward before the Marlies took the lead on the 5-on-4 power play.
It wasn’t a great goal to concede from the Senators’ point of view as Petan dropped the puck back at his own blue line and was never really touched as he split the D and took control of a stretch pass from Jeremy Bracco at the Belleville blue line. In the clear behind the Senators defense, Petan gave Gustavsson no chance with a deft finish to put Toronto in front 4-3.
The momentum could easily have swung either way moments later, but Darren Archibald was robbed of his second of the game and the play immediately headed toward the Toronto net, where Woll pulled off a big save to deny Vitaly Abramov on a wraparound attempt.
Belleville drew a penalty on that near miss, but the Marlies’ penalty kill stood firm to ensure the one-goal lead remained intact heading into the second intermission.
Kristians Rubins didn’t return for the third period after sustaining an injury, while Belleville opted to switch goaltenders, with Joey Daccord now taking over between the pipes having won his last start against Toronto.
The Senators came out with some purpose in the early stages of the final frame, but it was their turn to pay the price for turning the puck over cheaply. Norris’ sloppy clearing pass from inside his own zone found the debuting Kalle Kossila, who dished off to Kenny Agostino on his right side. The Marlies’ leading goal scorer beat Daccord with a quick adjustment in tight and a confident top-shelf finish.
The Marlies’ PK, a huge feature of this win, managed another successful stint from the units, leading to Toronto killing the game dead with a sixth goal back at even strength.
A broken play with mistakes from both teams ended in Petan setting up Hudson Elynuik with a cross-crease feed, and the big centreman scored on the second attempt for just his second goal this season.
The Senators were limited to just four shots on goal through the final 20 minutes before a Mason Marchment penalty shot rounded out an emphatic 7-3 victory and a memorable first game in charge for new Marlies head coach Greg Moore.
Post Game Notes
– The win for the Marlies broke a three-game losing streak and ensured they held onto second place in the North Division heading into the break.
– Special teams played a huge role in the Marlies’ comeback: The penalty kill went a perfect 7-7, while the power play scored twice and turned the game around at a critical stage.
– Kenny Agostino scored his 15th goal of the season, good for third place in AHL scoring.
– Nic Petan has enjoyed playing against Belleville this year. His second four-point haul (1-3-4) against the Senators included the game-winning goal.
– Pontus Aberg scored the fastest goal to start a game this season just 26 seconds in. It was his 11th goal of the year and he later added an assist as he continues to lead the Marlies in scoring with 26 points (1-15-26).
– Timothy Liljegren enjoyed his first career AHL three-point game (1-2-3).
“He was really good,” said Moore. “He distributes the puck well, he exits well, and he gets our game transitioning in a real positive sense. He makes plays through the middle of the rink. He gets the puck into the hands of the right guys and collects some points.”
– Joseph Woll posted 28 saves for the victory to give him a 6-4-3 record this season.
– Kalle Kossila made his long-awaited debut after fully recovering from an injury sustained back in training camp and showed some quick chemistry on a line with Agostino and Bracco. Once fully up to speed, he’s going to be a huge asset down the middle for Toronto in the second half of the season.
“I thought he was really impressive for his first game back after not having played for so long,” said Moore. “Some of the simple little plays in our d-zone through the middle of the rink — they’re really subtle, but he makes them look really easy, which is what is special about his talent.”
– As per Todd Crocker, Mason Marchment scored his first-ever penalty shot goal, which was the first for the Toronto Marlies since Ryan Hamilton scored on February 27, 2013 in a 2-1 win against Rochester.
– Saturday’s lines: